What’s more comforting than a sitcom with a set based in a living room, a cast that feels like family and cheering noises whenever a recognizable character enters the scene? There’s something incredibly ’90s about the iconic sitcom format, so it’s no wonder classic sitcoms have made a comeback during the pandemic, following trends that indicate we love watching nostalgia-inducing TV when the world seems bleak. But what would a sitcom set in 2021 look like?
Look no further than “Punky Brewster,” a reboot of the original sitcom of the same name released in 1984. The new series references dating applications, Fortnite and everything in between while maintaining the familiar sitcom format. Walking the line between lovably corny dialogue and internet references, “Punky Brewster” portrays a tried and true formula through a new lens.
Aside from the pop culture references, the show’s true heart is why any sitcom is worth watching: the characters. The show features Punky (Soleil Moon Frye, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Cherie (Cherie Johnson, “Family Matters”) who also starred in the original series, as well as new characters like Punky’s kids, Hannah (Lauren Lindsey Donzis, “Liv and Maddie”), Diego (Noah Cottrell, “The Chosen”) and Daniel (Oliver De Los Santos, “Home Plate”). Punky is a former foster child herself — now, it’s nostalgic and fresh to see Punky act as a foster mom and bring her wisdom from childhood experiences to parenthood. Punky has never been one for respecting norms at the expense of being yourself, and her parenting style is only an extension of that.
It’s also great to see the lessons Punky learns from her kids — the mutual respect between them is evident. One example is the parallel between Hannah and Punky; the former is beginning to date for the first time and discovering how to be herself, while the latter is starting to date after a divorce that makes her unsure of who she really is. We watch the two learn from each other and come out of their respective experiences with greater inner strength and the ability to express themselves in relationships. These themes are timeless but are especially important in the pandemic era where everyone has felt some degree of uncertainty about who they are.
However, the sitcom does seemingly brush over the pandemic, a choice that seems to be helpful to the show if you’re watching for escapism. Admittedly, though, it is a little odd to hear the characters make direct references to 2021 and speak to an audience without acknowledging COVID-19. One could argue that if we do have a return to normalcy this year, not mentioning the pandemic could contribute to the show’s timelessness. At the end of the day, though, if the purpose of watching sitcoms is to feel normal and escape into a show focused on wholesomeness, it makes sense not to portray masks and swab testing.
I’d recommend this show to anyone who has a soft spot in their heart for family-based comedies and otherwise wholesome television. “Punky Brewster” feels like the 2021 version of “Full House,” and there’s not much to complain about. The writing holds up in terms of showing everyday humor, growth and connection between the characters in every episode. It’s the perfect show to be transported while somehow still staying right where you are.
Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.